This interview is part of an ongoing series highlighting specific classes available through the Center for Musical Arts. Watch the interview or read a transcript below. 


Center for Musical Arts: I’m Erica Reid, I am the Marketing Manager for the Center for Musical Arts, and I am talking to Rex Spease about his Intro to Jazz Improv class. How are you doing, Rex?

Rex Spease: I’m doing very well. Thank you, Erica. How are you doing?

Center: I’m doing just fine. [laughs] Thank you for asking. I’m curious about the intro to jazz improv class, which is something new that we’re offering at the Center and something that you helm. Can you tell me a little bit about the format of that class?

Rex: Yes. I use a series of jazz study books published by Jamey Aebersold and it deals with music across all genres of jazz. Basic dixieland, smooth jazz, and I try to cover all the different areas of jazz and in class. 

I start with the beginning part of the book, the basic Aebersold book teaching jazz improvisation, and ask the students — whether they’re high school, adult, 50+, whatever, to look at the early part of the book and study chord structure, study scales, study interpretation, and ways of making their own melody really, really blossom. And just, to really try and get a really basic knowledge of jazz improv under their belts and to practice it and to rejoice when they come up with a really good solo on their own and be happy about it.

Center: So, would you say it’s a more academic class, there’s a lot of studying? Or is it a more practical class where there’s a lot of playing, or is it in the middle?

Rex: Well, maybe in the middle. It’s practical. They give examples of jazz phrases, and so the student gets to look at that and play it and get an idea of exactly what a jazz improv line would look like. And so, there’s some academic aspect to it that just having to look at the structure of chords, pick out notes within that chord to play in that particular song, whatever the song is. 

It’s pretty basic stuff, really. They just need to look at the chords and study the chords, stay scales, study interpretation, and different ways of creating a very, very fun melody to listen to.

Part of the thing is about playing jazz improv, you want to make it a fun line of music for the listener to appreciate. It might sound a lot more scary than it really is, once they get into it and do the basic, the groundwork, the studying, the chords and that, that doesn’t take up all the time.

Center: Now that this might make you laugh, but I was in an improv troupe for a long time. I did comedic improv, and my friends would always say, “That’s something you have to practice? Why do you have to go to practice?” And so much of it was about learning the structures that you’re playing within. Is that how it works in jazz understanding the bounds?

Rex: Sure, absolutely. It’s black and white. The music is on the staff, if they read music they’re going to be able to look at it and learn about chords. That’s probably the most important part as a beginner is to know what chords are and to take it and embellish it, just work on it and make it something more than what it is on paper. It’s their own ideas that make the difference.

Center: So, are there specific instruments that can participate in this, or can any instrument do jazz improv in your class?

Rex: I encourage any, including voice, any instrumentalist… I don’t know that an oboist or a bassoonist will ever be in my class, but they might! I guess it’s not unheard of for those double reeds to be a part of a jazz improv class, but yeah. 

Any instrument; flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, bass, guitar, whatever. In my first class I had a guitarist and two saxophonists, and they all just really enjoyed it and had a great time. So, yeah, please. I’m going to make it open to anybody that wants to learn. It’s just so fun.

Center: Alright. So to recap: any musician, and we’re looking especially for bassoonists who want to take on that challenge. [laughs]

Rex: [laughs] I hope I have seven or eight bassoonists wanting to sign up.

Center: Let’s get a few bassoonists. It’s a mix of studying the structures and then learning how to play within them. You’ll learn a lot, but it’s also a lot of fun. Is there anything else that you think prospective students would need to know about the Intro to Jazz Improv?

Rex: No, just sign up and let’s have a great time. That’s all I have to say.

Center: Alright. Thank you so much, Rex.

Rex: Thank you, Erica.